Original Research Into Communication Difficulties

Help me out on some original enquiries folks

I would like to say help with research but, with you guys, I know you would only think of medical science research. This is more sociology research, concerning communication difficulties we all have.

Communication is central to our Being. Elsewhere I have written that we only really “exist” to the degree that we communicate. If we didn’t communicate (connect) with anyone or anything, how could we be said to be there? Who would know!

I’ve written a lot about this theme, which is central to wellness and mind health. I came up with the idea of a “model answer”, meaning a good (intelligent) pre-patterned way of responding in certain critical situations.

OK, that blows spontaneity out of the window. But communication is important and, just as you wouldn’t go rock climbing without practicing the basic moves, why would we launch ourselves into relationships without rehearsing some of the basic exchanges?

You can be spontaneous about what you want to say, maybe, but it would be better to be practiced at getting the words out expertly.

What I want from you all is some feedback, as follows:

What are the commonest communication problems you encounter? (Misunderstanding? Bad temper? Irrationality? People don’t really listen? etc.)

What set ways of responding to a tricky situation have you found really work well for you—if any? (such as, “I don’t want that kind of communication from [a spouse] [friend] [lover],” or “Please hold the conversation until you feel calmer about this issue…” and so forth)

I like to use one when people are not clear: notice that if you ask people to repeat, they do so in the exactly the same way, same inaudible voice etc.! I have learned to say, “I didn’t get that; would you please repeat what you said but choose slightly different words, so that I may understand…”

If you have favorite phrases or responses to any situation that the rest of us might meet, please share it with me and I promise you I will make good use of it in my communication workshop!

Please leave a reply below! It will help thousands of people…

45 thoughts on “Original Research Into Communication Difficulties

  1. There are several underlying problems with communication.

    If we break this down to the simplest level we have 1 person listening and 1 person talking. And they only talk 1 at a time.

    The person talking has a whole lot of things to say about changing the destination of a planned outing. He says lets go to the local diner – its better than the park and you won’t have to cook.
    (what he left out is that his back hurts and the park benches are hard and he’d never get up from the grass.

    What she hears is The food at the diner is better and the park is nowhere special. Whats she thinks is that the park is where they first met – how could he have forgotten – and I already cooked the things he likes – what a jerk to waste my time.

    It gets worse as each sentance leads into a greater mire of deceptive assumptions.

    To be honest there are so many pitfalls its a wonder that we don’t all come to blows.

    The best advice for good converations is to listen to what is being said – don’t start thinking about your answer. Think through what has been said and ask for clarification.

    Cautions don’t put the other person in a defensive mode by asking why or why not – the otherperson will instantly spring to the defence of what they have already said.
    And don’t use the glib “one size fits all” and really think hard about using “Please hold the conversation until you feel calmer about this issue…” its instantly adversarial e.g. I’m good and calm – your’e the one with the problem.

    They can be patronising and they stop you thinking about what is needed.

    By all means think about difficult situations but realise that each person brings their own context to what they hear so you need to watch and listen to how they react.

    Hope this helps keep the ball rolling

  2. Like you, I enjoy talking about health related matters, such as nutrition, lifestyle, etc.

    The biggest problem I encounter is that people are incredibly reluctant to change their knowledge, or opinion on something, once it has been formed. This can include an opinion such as why a particular make of car looks terrible or even facts such as what foods are actually healthy for you (this depending on what they have learned back in school).

    The unfortunate fact is that not everything we got taught is fact. Even (medical) professionals get this wrong. Yet, once people have learned something and they believe it to be true, it can be incredibly difficult to even get a chance to persuade them otherwise. Trying to challenge this information that they have built up as fact in their minds is almost taken as a personal attack.

    The moment you try to change established thoughts in someone elses mind, is the moment that you start to get resistance – and often this person will become irritated, angry or even upset.

    I do have my ways of dealing with situations such as this (much of it being done in similar ways as you can read in Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to win friends & influence people’), but I was wondering if you or anyone had any thoughts on this from a health perspective?

    For example, I tried to explain to a cab driver (who had diabetes) that being on the Dr.Atkins wasn’t doing him any favours. I didn’t even get a chance to explain as he chose not to listen to reason.

    How would you approach this a person such as this?

    Note: you would only have 15 minutes to break the ice as that’s how long the cab ride took.

    – Mikael S.

  3. When someone is angry with me I say–“I am sorry I failed to meet your expectations, it was not my intention to cause you irritation. What can I do to make it up to you.”

    • Steve B.: Thumbs up–I love this response for when people get angry at you. I think that this would defuse the situation almost immediately. The only caveat I have is when one says “what can I do to make it up to you,” one remembers that one must preserve one’s dignity and not kow-tow to the other person’s request if it is too unreasonable.

  4. For ANY situation or people encountered regardless how nasty and obnoxious they are, I can’t think of a better one that… Hakuna Matata.
    Avoid to reply immediately either verbally or phisically to the situation, there is learning in every one of them.. Blame yourself first..

    😉 Count to ten in silence and not go and hit the idiot causing the situation with the first blunt instrument you have at hand.
    Give me patience for the things I can’t change
    Give me strength for the things I can change
    Give me wisdom to recognize the ones from the others…

  5. I have learned that we expect people to understand a situation, subject, etc. the same way we do. This is not true. They see it only from their standpoint and we are all so different. I have found that asking them, “How do you see this situation from your viewpoint?” often clarifies for me how they relate to it. It also gives them an opportunity to express how they feel about it. People have often said to me, “I remember when you said……” and it wasn’t even close! That got me to thinking …we don’t hear the same thing others do because we hear from a different viewpoint.
    Keep up the good work!

  6. When I am having a discussion with someone and they are defensive or stubborn about an issue, if I can manage a dispassionate tone and ask “How does it serve you to hold this belief (point of view, etc)? It often stops them for a moment of reflection and they sometimes offer, ‘I don’t lmow” or “I have to think about it”.

  7. Dr. Mark Waldman has the very best neuroscience based techniques that I have come across for improving the quality of our communication Definitely something new and different and it is about actually changing how your brain is working..so that you get better results in your communications. On par with NLP at its best.

  8. In the morning, sometimes I can see someones lips moving and know they are talking to me, but my ears may shut off for up to half a sentence. When that happens, I have to ask them to start over and say it again. This phenomenon goes away after I’ve been up for awhile.
    For the mumblers in the next room, I mumble something back. They may then come into the room where I am and ask “what did you say?” This works out in my favor. For the hearing aid wearer that is yelling in his natural voice, I may need to do lots of hand movements. These people come to the post office, wanting stamps or to send something out. My personal favorite is the person that listens to you with one ear. They hear every 3d word or so. I have to wait until they are looking at me with both eyes so I know they are TRYING to get the message. We have better success that way.

  9. Usually it is misinterpretation of what my original message was meant to be. Often this is based on what the listener is experiencing at the exact time the message is received or what has just happened minutes earlier that may have caused the message to be obscured.

    Example: I sent the following text to my sweetheart: “I want you, baby!” The response I received was explosive! He said, “All you ever do is want something from me! Forget it!!

    Since this was sooo far from his normal reaction, in fact a 100% reversal, I KNEW that something was wrong. It turned out his two bosses had each just dumped a week’s worth of work on him and they wanted it done ‘yesterday’ so to speak! Each boss was claiming their assignment had priority. Each boss wanted their assignment completed first. My sweetie had just negotiated a priority list between the two men in order to satisfy the requirement of both men in a timely fashion. He was extremely frustrated and mentally exhausted.

    He perceived my text as another demand while I intended it as a compliment to his masculinity and desirability as my man. I responded with, “Don’t worry darling. I’ll be waiting with a hot meal, a relaxing back rub, and the TLC you deserve as the fantastic man you are.”

    Everything worked out just fine because I didn’t react in a negative way. He told me later that the text brought moisture (not tears mind you) to his eyes. God, how I do LOVE him!

  10. Dear Doc:
    Your sample question is good but could better be divided into two questions. If the mumbler is hard to understand, ask them to speak up, of course. If it is only an issue of diction, ask them to speak up anyway. Gives them time to think. Then deal with word choice. Few can handle both questions at once.
    Best wishes & always thanks.
    Minutiae c’est Moi.

  11. Here are just a few of the virtues that I learned over the years which I think are worth writing down:

    1. There are always three sides to any story or observation. That’s yours, mine and the truth!

    2. It’s either too good to be true or too true to be good.

    3. If we were all angels, everything would be “free”.

    4. What ever you are do for a living, always strive to be the best at it. Even if you pick up garbage for a living, always strive to be the best garbage pick me upper in the world!

    5. Without your health, what good is all your “wealth”? No one that I knew has ever taken one cent to their grave! I would rather be a healthy and vibrant pauper hands down than being a sickly or terminally ill billionair.

    6. What ever you start, always finish it. Events in your latter life may reward you for that!

    7. If you have nothing to say, just smile which is a lot to say!

  12. -Perhaps this may be helpful:
    #1 – My mother used to say: “Before responding to anyone,
    think and turn your tongue inside your head three times
    before uttering a response!!!” (In other words, not only be a
    very empathetic listener, but also try to understand the other
    person’s “body language” and the tone of voice and the intent
    of their conversation….and try to understand, as much as possible- their purpose….Also, if one exercises thoughtfulness
    as much as possible, they should not be faulted for their considerations….. 🙂 !!!!!!

  13. I have a couple responses that I use frequently as follows:
    When someone says something inflammatory at me or something I disagree with and don’t want to argue about I just say
    ” well, darn it..” and don’t respond to that thought any further.

    If I’m asked to commit to something before I’m ready to decide I just say ” Let me think about it. ” and don’t discuss it further.

    Those two responses work for me most of the time when I
    need them.

  14. I find sometimes it is better to say mmm. But that is accepted as disapproval to what is being said. You can’t win.
    You try to avoid a argument and that is wrong to.
    People will hear what they want to here.

  15. When I don’t want to say the wrong thing I tend to say mmm.
    It is now regarded with the family that I disapprove of what was said. There is no pleasing some people damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  16. There is so much more to communication than language.
    Body Language far exceeds the impact of words.  
    Attitude of the speaker’s inflection delivers more than the words– For example speaking in a way that bullies
    or intimidates, or disrespects are non verbal ways of communicating more than words.

    Not everyone attaches the same value to the same words.  Different cultures have different attitudes and values.

    Having the perfect script response will never cover up or over come arrogance or disgust, or any of the other hundreds of demeanors with which it might be delivered.

    Even with love the unspoken words are the most powerful.  You can say I love you with so many different tones and feelings that the script or words become meaningless.  You can even say I Love You and not mean it at all.

    More importantly communication is more about listening than speaking.  
    It is human nature to protect ourselves when we know that the other person is a harsh critic we will avoid getting that wrath and not say at all what they feel.  
    Communication is a very vast topic.  Even writing down a script will not amount to a hill of beans if the delivery is not in sync with the message.

  17. I teach special needs children to communicate with each other not just to talk at each other. We have several rules, listen, look at the speaker, and wait until the person has finished speaking. If it can work for my boys, it also works for me, respect your communication partner. Simple. Good luck

  18. I’ve discovered through experience that good communication has a lot to do with frame of reference. you have to have the same or a similar one as the person you’re communicating with in order to send and receive accurately. I’m blind so I know that mine is different from a lot of others and sometimes perceived by others to be even more different than it actually is. often I will ask the person questions to find out where they’re coming from and also to get them to clarify it in their own minds. I’m pretty good at distilling the meaning out of the verbal clutter, but sometimes it’s a moving target since ther person him/herself doesn’t quite know what they’re trying to say.being vague is a self protective tactic which some people employ unconsciously. if that’s what’s going on, they will be uncomfortable if you try to pin them down.

    there are folks who are curious and willing to go outside of their own little box. with them, I can just lay a little groundwork and off we go. there are others who don’t even know that any other box exists. it’s almost impossible to cummunicate with them no matter how clear I’m being.

  19. Hi, thank you for your work and for sharing it!
    I encountered the same situation of people repeating the same request without realizing that they would get the same pour answer.

    General suggestions for communication:

    1. Hm… train the intuition (Sahaja Yoga meditation help me a lot; Doreen Virtues books on communicating with angels and learning to listen to our inner guidance are also cool). Unless we know intuitively what the other person in holding in their intention, we can’t really act in harmony with them. In martial arts such as Aikido, 🙂 there is a similar suggestion: you have to know what the opponent is thinking to completely avoid the conflict… otherwise you’ll have to deal with the conflict one way or another, preferably in a harmonious way.

    2) In Aikido there is one thing that changed my perspective a great deal: tai sabaki, when under attack, a step to the side to avoid the direct impact, and to allow the energy of the attacker to manifest. Basically you step to a side, let the attack be completed, and fall on you side, then you step behind the attacker and lead then to the ground (using their own momentum). How can this be used in communications? 😀 I’ve seen that the best foreign languages teachers master techniques of making the students speak, without issuing their own opinions. I feel it’s pretty much the same. They stir up the students, the later “launch” in issuing opinions… the teacher asked further questions >>> so the communication based lesson functions well. (The less trained teachers start issuing t much of their opinions sometimes, with which of course not all the students will agree… the flow of information kind of gets hindered.) O feel the good psychologists (I’ve tried a bit of Jungian dream analysis) master the technique of making the patient speak and open up, just because they use this “tai sabaki” step style, i.e. they avoid issuing opinions or ADVICES about what you’re telling them. Those who start giving advices are doing a different thing, they don’t really allow the patient open up and rely on their own strength. I’ve met one homeopathic doctor (very good otherwise 😀 ) who’s making this mistake: she start issuing opinions and advices up to a point where some more stubborn patients feel their life style is being challenged… so they stop providing her with details about their physic life, which in homeopathy is important. sometimes I feel like telling her: “Stop giving them advices for life, you’d better refrain from talking, pretend that you agree, 😉 and let them tell you more… then you could just give them, with more precision, a medicine.”

    3) In Sahaja Yoga there are various techniques for balancing ourselves or others. But since they relate mainly to energy and chakras, they might not be withing the scope of your communications seminars. it’s all basically about sending positive energy to other person. This definitely promotes communications.

    I’m not sure this helps, 😀 I definitely enjoyed sharing this with you!

    All the best in your work!

  20. Obviously communications and the errors and misunderstandings that surround communications is a huge, pervasive and critical issue. Given our current technological prowess as a species there is a good chance that if we do not significantly improve our communications in the near term we may very well not survive.

    I have no idea how to address this on the large scale. However, I hope that if enough of us acknowledge the problem and address it effectively on the local scale, it may make the difference that we need.

    Towards that end here are a couple of simple, basic techniques that my wife of 25 + years use on a daily basis to improve our communications. (Of course, I also use this to the best of my ability with everyone else, friends, colleagues, business associates and family members, with whom I must communicate.) I use “I statements” to let people know what I am experiencing and what my reaction is to their actions and statements. For example, instead of accusing my wife of disrespecting me if she interrupts a phone conversation I may be having with a client, and instead of making ANY statement about her, or any judgment about her behaviour, I simply express how I feel. So I might say something like: “When you interrupt me when I am on the phone with a client I feel frustrated.” Then it is up to her to decide how to respond.

    The other classic technique that we use is “Mirroring”. If my wife is communicating something to me that is obviously important to her, I make sure that I clearly understand what she is saying. For example: “Let me make sure I clearly understand what you are saying. Here is what I heard: When you tell me how you feel about and argument you had with your brother you don’t want me to tell you how to solve the problem. Instead, you just want me to acknowledge how you feel. Did I correctly understand this?”

    Mirroring has the benefits of both making sure we have correctly heard what was said, givng the other party a chance to rephrase what they said in case that is needed, and it slows down my reaction long enough to defuse potentially explosive situations and forces me to more carefully consider my response.

    We have found significant benefits from using these simple techniques. Well, they seem simple, but most of us are not in the habit of communicating in this way so it does take conscious effort and practice. I think it is clearly worth it.

  21. When I don’t hear or understand I will say” Could you rephrase that for me ? I didn’t quite get what you were saying” Invariably the response is slower and clearer.

  22. Many years ago I taught a communications course to adults and teens — the teens could not understand why their parents did not understand them or “get it” ! Two exercises that we did made an impact on them:

    #1 – The Rectangle Picture
    #2- I did not say he stole the money.

    #1 – The Rectangle Picture exercise is done twice.
    You select 2 students: one student to communicate the instructions (The Communicator), the second student to listen and follow the instructions (The Receiver). Both students are sitting at the same table with something to divide the table — dividers such as books, a box — something tall enough so the Communicator cannot see what the Receiver is doing. They can only see the face of the other person.

    The Communicator gets a paper that has a design made with small rectangles (domino-size) that is not shown to the Receiver. The audience/class can see (or is given) The Communicator’s design. The Receiver is given blank rectangles (about 20) to place on a blank piece of paper, as instructed by The Communicator. (You can use small post-it notes that are cut in half for the rectangles, so that they will stick to the paper.) The audience/class is instructed not to comment or make any sounds, facial expressions, or gestures during each exercise. (If class size is small, they can stand around the table.)

    The FIRST exercise: [I asked for someone who thought they were good at communicating…. 🙂 ] Briefly give the instructions — do not explain. (Keep it simple.)
    Instructions for the The Communicator: The Communicator is to instruct The Receiver on how to make the design with his rectangles. He may not use gestures, only verbal communication.
    Instructions for the The Receiver: The Receiver can only listen, not talk or make facial expressions. He is to follow the instructions of The Communicator.
    The audience/class is to observe quietly and take notes on any comments they would like to make after the exercise.
    You can give a time, like 5-10 minutes, to complete the exercise.

    After the exercise show the completed design from The Receiver to The Communicator and the audience/class. Then discuss the various reasons for the breakdown in communication, how it could have been improved, etc. with audience/class participation. (The Receiver may be dumbfounded as to why the design is so different.)

    The SECOND exercise: Select a new Communicator and Receiver.
    Instructions for the The Communicator: The Communicator is to instruct The Receiver on how to make the design with his rectangles. He may not use gestures, only verbal communication. (From the previous class discussion, he will be more specific.)
    Instructions for the The Receiver: The Receiver can now ask questions to clarify the Communicator’s instructions.
    The audience/class is to observe quietly and take notes on any comments they would like to make after the exercise.
    Give the same time to complete the exercise, as in the first exercise.
    Follow with the same discussion.

    #2 — I did not say he stole the money.
    Writing this phrase on a chalk/white board will display how tone communicates meaning. (This was especially good for the teens, as they sometimes wondered why their parents/boss reacted to their response.) Each word is emphasized to change the focus, and in some cases, the meaning of the sentence:
    I (emphasize and pause) did not say he stole the money.
    I DID not say he stole the money.
    I did NOT say he stole the money.
    I did not SAY he stole the money.
    I did not say HE stole the money.
    I did not say he STOLE the money.
    I did not say he stole THE money.
    I did not say he stole the MONEY.

    You can take any response to any question and go through this routine. Depending upon the tone of voice, it may come out defensive, evasive, sassy, confused, etc. (Using the teen example: Did you take out the trash? YES, I TOOK OUT THE TRASH.) Writing is down does not give the same “punch” to the words and meaning as voice inflection, but you get the idea….

    Have fun communicating in your workshop!

    Everything has a reason and an ultimate cause, that we must humbly accept. However, it is a matter of will and capability to understand it all, why mostly the road to an understanding is long or never ending. Also the road to accomplish a positive change is long or never ending, Because, we are only human.

  24. Develop the ability to resist responding immediately. Learn to live with a silence. If the other person has said something hurtful, your silence will ensure that they speak first – we cannot live with silence. That will give them time to reflect upon what was said. And modify or explain it. If asked a direct question, the silence gives you time to frame your answer. If they jump in first, it will give you a clue to their meaning.

  25. obstacles to communication: not listening, yelling/arguing and refusing to honor another opinion. When my children were teenagers, I got into the habit of ‘tuning’ them out. This lasted until I realized I didn’t know them and did’t inow what they were doing and who they’re friends were.. It was hard to listen to teenage jeebish but I soon found that the more I listened, the more I understood and more they communicated. Now, I find my grandkids frequently ‘tune’ me out. I know they care about me but, I am old so therefore do not understand their life, and I can see now, not listening can have a big negative impact.

  26. “I’m not sure I understood that; could you please rephrase it?”
    That one works for nearly every situation except angry confrontation. If you wish to avoid it, say “I don’t want to say something I might regret. We’ll talk about this later when we’re both calmer.” And then walk directly away. It doesn’t work if you stay there.

  27. When communicating, nine times out of ten, it involves people with whom we have relationships with, husband/wife, family, children, co-workers, etc. and we tend to say or answer in ways of having our guard up — I think the biggest threshold is knowing or having a feeling of the other person’s demeanor –we all do it consciously or unconsciously — protection against feelings — total fear of rejection or being rejected verbally. My son-in-law and I have a good relationship, I think, because I make it so. He has somewhat an intimidating personality, and I’ve learned to shut my thoughts down in order to — so to speak — keep the peace. Is it ok, I don’t think so, but it’s working. My daughter gives me hand and body gestures letting me know not to speak or give comments for I’m sure she knows that I’m treading on thin ice. As I said earlier — is it okay — I don’t think so, but someone has to give, and the union is civil. You know, I’ve always heard that a marriage is never 50/50, and I think in communicating one with another it’s not 50/50 either.

  28. The subject matter is not always of primary importance. A confident, agressive individual will often win an argument against a knowledgable individual with a lack of self-confidence or who is retiring, even if the agressive one doesn’t know much or anything about the subject. A quiet person may have expert knowledge about something, or many things, but not be able to communicate because of a lack of self-confidence. Taboos and convention often prevent interesting, spontaneous conversation. Many people have an agenda which influences their communication with whoever they are dealing with. Upbringing, life experience, religion, politics and so on will all influence how people communicate. Anger and dislike are frequently the result unless individuals can adopt a truly neutral stance. Controlling emotional reaction no matter how close to the heart the subject in question may be is important. A sense of humour helps, so long as not everything is turned into a joke.

  29. When the other person is obviously in an argumentative mood, the situation can often be defused by timely use of the following words (or something similar). “It’s just a matter of opinion, I guess. Some people see it that way but others don’t – and everyone is entitled to his (or her) own opinion. After all, there is enough space in the world for plenty of variety. Life would be very boring indeed if we all agreed on every subject.”

  30. Sometimes silence is golden.
    Particularly with the people you are closest to you, perhaps not arguing and just acknowledgeing what they are saying is best. The threads can be picked up at a later time when they are calmer and the agitation of the mind has been blunted. Sometimes they may themselves admit their folly .

  31. If it’s written response I am preparing – I usually always run it by my sister. She is way nicer than I am and usually gives me good feedback. The question she asks me to ask myself is this: What is the response you want to get after you send this? That usually always tempers me. I may want to be scathing, but who wants to have a conversation with a fire-breathing dragon? This is classic Steve Covey: “Begin with the end in mind.” Also, after I come up with first draft, I edit, then lay aside. Edit, then lay aside. Edit, then lay aside. I usually calm down and my response gets more attractive and efficient as time passes. I usually get funnier, more vulnerable, and more concise (less wordy) through this process. All three better for communication.

    • I’m right where you are Sally,
      I always run my “tricky” letters past Vivien and she edits out all the snarls and growls!

    • Sally, I am a retired technical writer/editor, so your suggestions apply not only to e-mails you’re writing while you are angry, but also to ALL form of written communication. Whether you are writing e-mails on any subject, or specific instructions for your co-workers or your kids, always allow time to compose your text, let it sit (if enough time allows), edit, and finally re-edit your writing. You want people to understand your point, or just follow your instructions correctly. Writing to (and for) others, regardless of the subject, is very powerful, and the writer must strive always to make sure that the writing will be understood correctly and without ambiguity.

  32. I enjoyed all the above comments. I suspect that communication deals more with the sharing of emotional states than purely an exchange of ideas. Intention, is of course involved. Many seem to expound simply to give their viewpoint without using an idea of technique for communication: transmit/receive/repeat back to the originator what was shared and then the originator acknowledges that the idea indeed got across. I agree with the lady about talk shows. It appears that many who feel they are communicating are really trying to force their own perspective by using language. I doubt that most people genuinely listen to the other side without contemplating their response. My own feeling is that sincere communication can “move mountains.”

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